There is an intrinsic curiosity that leads us to look into the private lives of others – a burgeoning guilty draw that leads people to tell stories, gossip, spy on each other. The psychology of that feeling is primary to Telling Lies, a game that is little more than watching the close, private conversations – sometimes very intimate – of other people. The game takes advantage of a human desire to pry into others’ lives, and that sense of doing something wrong helps make the draw even more powerful. This is our Telling Lies Review.
Telling Lies Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, iOS, Windows, Mac OS, Macintosh
- Developer: Sam Barlow, Furious Bee Limited, Half Mermaid
- Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
- Genres: Adventure game
- Release Date: August 23, 2019
Telling Lies Review: Gameplay
Telling Lies gets away with being a video game that doesn’t contain a ‘game.’ As with its predecessor, Her Story, director, and writer Sam Barlow allows the idea to discover the filthy details of someone else’s life to guide you through the experience. Where Her Story was kind of an experiment with the idea – you’re browsing a database of disorganized full-motion video clips slowly uncovering a mystery about a woman being questioned by the police – Telling Lies is the large-scale performance. There are more characters, videos, and details to discover. The question of how much you will enjoy Telling Lies depends powerfully on how far your curiosity will take you.
To that end, there is no right way to explain what Telling Lies is about without ruining it. The game begins with a clip of a woman returning to her apartment connecting a hard drive to a computer, which gives her access to a secret database from the National Security Agency containing videos taken from the Internet; mostly a series of Skype or FaceTime calls made or received by a man named David.
As with Her Story, the reason why those videos are worth watching and why the privacy of these people is worth breaking in is something you should get on your own. As the title suggests, not everyone is candid with each other, and much of the game is a meditation on the deceptions people use every day in all of their interactions. The face we show to one person is different from the face we wear to another – and even what we tell ourselves may be suspicious.
Al Telling Lies takes place on a computer screen, where you can dig on the stolen hard drive for extra context, and poking around gives some handy facts about what you’re watching. For this particular NSA Big Brother program to pass the constitutional requirement, the videos cannot be watched chronologically. You can only look for a clip using keywords, and when you expose a conversation, you can see only one side of it at a time. Watching each clip is an opportunity to learn about the people in it. Still, you should also pay close attention to which words to try next so that you can discover more of the story or what other words a person is using so that you understand their side of detecting the interaction.
That system is almost identical to the one in Her Story, with a few improvements. In Count Lies, you can scroll through videos at different speeds by dragging your mouse to the sides of the screen. You start each video with the keyword you found the video with, so discovering the context requires digging deeper into each video. Each selection also has subtitles, and you can click a subtitle word while watching to use it as a keyword, making the search a little easier – or you can go after a thread as soon as you see it.
As noted, Telling Lies is an extension of the ideas inherent in Her Story, and so it contains many of the same highlights – and drawbacks. It is a title in which you have to make your fun. Revealing exciting tidbits about the characters or establishing a connection between one event and another is satisfying, but that also means that the “game” part of Telling Lies mainly exists in your mind. There is little to move you forward except your desire to know more, and you will mostly create your own goals and climaxes in the form of “Aha!” moments along the way.
In the end, Telling Lies feels a little undercooked. The mechanics, writing, and performances create a real feeling that you can watch someone else’s entire private world. Still, the game doesn’t give you a lot of choices, especially when trying to explore each video. Telling Lies never really answers a fundamental question that arises due to its nature and structure: so what? The game’s final report suggests that as a viewer, you participate in storytelling as if discovering and watching these videos create a complete, subjective story for the one who sees them afterward – but you’re just a passive part of that process.
You don’t know you’re participating in it until it’s over. The game may tell you that you have affected what someone else might see, but you don’t get a chance to make decisions in that process or to separate truths from deceptions; you can only watch.
Telling Lies Review: Conclusion
Telling Lies offers you to delve into the intimate connections between people, to discover deeper who they are possible than even they realize. In particular, the production values and performances make Telling Lies feel accurate and instantaneous, increasing the game’s pretension of participating in something that’s forbidden and potentially sinister, even if you’re working as a digital detective. In this way, it is contemporary and meaningful as a game that uniquely uses interactivity to explore how we relate to each other.
But Telling Lies struggles to deliver meaning in that exploration. The interactivity is only superficial, and as the lies, the characters tell each other. As a further extension of Barlow’s ideas about what games can be, Telling Lies is a success. It is unfortunate that it ultimately does not further embrace its interactive capabilities.